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Ivan Fedotov was drafted by the Flyers 9 years ago. He just debuted this week

A 6'7" inch ice hockey goalie from Russia played his first game on NHL ice Monday night, nine years after he was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers drafted Ivan Fedotov in 2015, with low expectations. But they signed him in May 2022 after a breakout season and an Olympic silver medal. When Fedotov tried to leave Russia, he was detained on allegations of avoiding his duty to serve in the Russian military and forced to enlist. He served a year at a remote naval outpost in the Arctic, where his contact with the West and his ice time were both severely limited.

The NHL tolled Fedotov's contract for a year, meaning he was obligated to play for the Flyers when his military service ended. Instead, as soon as he was discharged in July 2023, Russia's top professional hockey league announced he'd signed a two-year contract with CSKA Moscow, a team with ties to the army.

The International Ice Hockey Federation ruled him in breach of his still-valid Flyers contract and sanctioned Fedotov and CSKA. But Russia called the IIHF's move "absurd" because the country was already banned from international play over its invasion of Ukraine. Russia ignored the ruling.

The NHL and the Russian league, the KHL, have not had a formal agreement to facilitate the transfer of players since 2004. Talks to reach a new deal broke down over compensation to Russia when top talent left for the NHL.

Despite acrimonious negotiations and occasional lawsuits over major players, the NHL and KHL reached an informal agreement to respect each other's contracts in 2010. That understanding held until the NHL severed ties with the KHL in 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine.

With Fedotov already 27 years old and the NHL's hands tied, hopes for him making it to the NHL were low. But last week, after CSKA's season ended, the Russian team announced it was terminating Fedotov's contract. The next day, he appeared stateside at a press conference as a member of the Flyers.

He is fulfilling his original one-year contract from 2022, which conveniently makes him eligible for the playoffs despite joining the team after the deadline to sign new players.

The Flyers are hoping Fedotov will help them cling to a precarious Stanley Cup playoff spot with two weeks to go in the season. The team is in need of help in goal. In February, their starting goalie, Carter Hart, was charged with sexual assault in Canada in connection with a 2018 incident involving five members of Hockey Canada's World Junior team. Hart is on an indefinite leave from the Flyers. His contract is up at the end of the season. Attorneys for Hart have denied the allegations.

Negotiations between the Flyers and CSKA apparently began about six weeks ago. CSKA gave no reason for Fedotov's contract termination, and it's unclear what incentive the team had for letting Fedotov go. At a press conference, Flyers GM Danny Briere said "we'll just leave the details out" when asked about the deal.

Fedotov impressed in his first outing on Monday. Samuel Ersson played the first period for the Flyers in a critical matchup against the New York Islanders but was pulled after giving up two goals on six shots. Fedotov kept the game close despite a second-period onslaught. The Flyers picked up one point in a 4-3 overtime loss. The imposing Russian made 19 saves on 21 shots.

At times, Fedotov has been listed as 6'8", which would make him the tallest goalie in NHL history. The Flyers listed him as 6'7" on Friday.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Elissa Harwood